The Women's March on Versailles was an important event at the start of the French Revolution. It gave the revolutionaries confidence in the power of the people over the king.
Leading up to the March
In 1789 France, the main food of the commoners was bread. A poor French economy had led to a scarcity of bread and high prices. The people were hungry. In Paris, women would go to the market to buy bread for their families, only to find that what little bread was available was very expensive.
Women's March on Versailles Source: Bibliotheque nationale de France
Women in the Marketplace Riot
On the morning of October 5, 1789, a large group of women in a Paris marketplace began to revolt. They wanted to buy bread for their families. They began to march through Paris demanding bread at a fair price. As they marched, more people joined the group and soon there were thousands of marchers.
The March Begins
The crowd first took over the Hotel de Ville in Paris (sort of like a city hall) where they were able to get some bread as well as weapons. Revolutionaries in the crowd suggested they head to the palace in Versailles and confront King Louis XVI. They called the king the "Baker" and the queen the "Baker's wife."
Were there only women in the crowd?
Although the march is often referred to as the "Women's" March on Versailles, there were men included in the crowd as well. One of the main leaders of the march was a man named Stanislas-Marie Maillard.
At the Palace in Versailles
After six hours of marching in the pouring rain, the crowd arrived at the king's palace in Versailles. Once the crowd arrived at Versailles they demanded to meet the king. At first, things seemed to be going well. A small group of women met with the king. He agreed to provide them food from the king's stores and promised more in the future.
While some of the group left after the agreement, many people stayed and continued to protest. Early the next morning, some of the crowd were able to get into the palace. Fighting broke out and some of the guards were killed. Eventually, peace was restored by Marquis de Lafayette, the leader of the National Guard.
Lafayette Kisses Marie Antoinette's Hand by Unknown
Later that day, the king addressed the crowd from a balcony. The revolutionaries demanded that he return to Paris with them. He agreed. Then the crowd demanded to see Queen Marie Antoinette. The people blamed a lot of their problems on the queen and her lavish spending habits. The queen appeared on the balcony with her children, but the crowd demanded that the children be taken away. The queen stood there by herself with many in the crowd pointing guns at her. She may have been killed, but Lafayette knelt before her on the balcony and kissed her hand. The crowd calmed and allowed her to live.
The King Returns to Paris
The king and queen then traveled back to Paris with the crowd. By this time the crowd had grown from around 7,000 marchers to 60,000. After the return march, the king went to live at Tuileries Palace in Paris. He would never again return to his beautiful palace in Versailles.
Interesting Facts about the Women's March on Versailles
Many of the soldiers in the National Guard sided with the women marchers.
The Palace of Versailles was located around 12 miles southwest of Paris.
Future leaders of the French Revolution met with the marchers at the palace including Robespierre and Mirabeau.
When the crowd first broke into the palace, they went looking for Queen Marie Antoinette. The queen barely escaped death by running down a secret passageway to the king's bedchamber.
The king and queen would both be executed four years later in 1793 as part of the French Revolution.